I’ve been following environmental science since I was 16. Last August, I celebrated my 50th year (along with Woodstock) and here I am, still following the science of our planet…
As a varsity debater in 1986, I was confronted with the topic of how to protect the environment. At the time, climate change was a known, though, less-discussed topic.
I was expected to be able to argue for both sides (protecting or not protecting the environment). I found how increasing regulations could hurt the economy. People could lose their jobs. Decreasing the population was downright unconstitutional and would interfere with our pursuit of happiness and freedom of religion. To be honest, the arguments against protecting the environment were strong.
In 1986, the science was young, but the scenarios scientists were painting for us were pretty clear. If we didn’t stop burning fossil fuels, our atmosphere and waterways would become polluted, many people would become ill, the planet would be less and less capable of supporting life, and living beings on earth, even humans, would eventually face extinction.
How on earth could we shift the collective consciousness of this world and know we are all connected? Is it possible to convince people that without a healthy planet we can’t have healthy humans?
I was grateful to learn about both sides of this particular situation, but, I had more questions than answers following the exercise. How would we decide to protect the environment? How would we avoid polluting our precious necessities: air, water, soil?
Over the years, I watched many of the theoretical scenarios I learned about climate change actually play out and I was becoming more and more anxious.
Our country continued to burn fossil fuels at an incredible rate, countless companies polluted for profit, and our government made choices that, well, I was afraid they would make.
It wasn’t just the government, it was so many things: Scientists were mocked and those worried about the climate were dismissed as crazy. Regulations were difficult to enforce with big business. Population control was only considered for non-human animals.
Well, OF COURSE I had anxiety.
OF COURSE I was depressed.
The nightmarish scenes scientists explained to us in our high school research were coming to life before my eyes.
I had to do something for my anxiety about the state of the planet in the face of climate change.
Living with fear on a nearly-daily basis was exhausting.
Journaling, yoga, meditation, and teaching English (with a heavy leaning toward science fiction and journalism) were all helpful and truly rewarding.
Then, in 2004, when I was pregnant with my first child, I was really concerned about the world we were leaving behind for his generation. I decided to leave teaching and become the best mom I could be in a world with an uncertain, grim-looking future.
I couldn’t fix the whole world, but, I realized I could do my best with my little patch of earth.
So, I went to the garden for healing.
Perhaps my maternal nurturing instinct was kicking in, or maybe it was that my parents were avid gardeners, but mostly, I think I was lead to the garden because of my fear that we were trashing the planet. I started gardening in earnest. I learned to make compost instead of excess food waste, tended the already developed vegetable beds, and put in water-saving irrigation systems.
I discovered my environmental anxiety and depression over climate change was best calmed in the garden.
I told my meditation teacher how I was feeling, and she said, “The earth is very healing. I think you’re on to something. Cooking and housekeeping can be rewarding, but gardening…now there’s something special.” I learned how my anxious mind could meditate on the beauty in nature and how I could contribute to that beauty. I was participating in the creation of earth art. Gardening, for me, was just as effective as meditation at finding calmness.
In addition to improving my health and my family’s well-being, I was creating a place where I could connect with the source of creation. Even if the world around me didn’t seem to understand what was at stake by driving bigger cars and tossing single-use plastics, I was doing something. I could start healing the earth at home. I could feed my family and others with what I grew. I was exercising, spending more time in the sun (with a whole lotta protection), and I was feeling so much better!
I relished in getting soil on my hands and feet. I frequently walked through the garden barefoot, despite the drying effect of our clay soil. I watched my first son crawl all the way from the house to the tomato plants. He feasted on the red fruits and I loved his smile, the juice running down his chin. I knew that even if our planetary trajectory was not good, I could bring the pleasure of the earth to my family. And that felt good.
But, after a few years of rather obsessive gardening, new aches and pains in my body concerned me. Arthritis runs in my family and I knew I needed to be careful and proactive. If I needed to keep doing what I was loving, I was going to need some help.
I decided to search for people to help me garden and, maybe, help others by connecting with the earth in the face of our climate crisis.
If more people could see the beauty of the earth in front of them, around their homes, maybe they would reach the tipping point of inspiration toward building a more sustainable future.
I met some wonderful, kind, and honest people who were willing to train with me for the betterment of the planet.
I took all the classes about gardening I could, including the Master Gardener course. I devoured garden books at night. I was just a little obsessed and absolutely determined to build a better environment for everyone.
I gardened for other people with my small children and an assistant. I honed my craft with my boys strapped to me or nearby in a playpen!
Over time, I grew more than flowers, fruit trees, and veggies – I cultivated a business and hired workers so I could help others connect to the land. I wanted to show my clients the potential of a beautiful space that would give them peace and beauty in their lives. I hoped for them to become creators in their own garden, a garden unique to their needs.
I grew my business like my first garden; planting seeds of kindness, good effort, and a willingness to learn more about how we can work together to heal the planet.
After growing so many gardens over the past 16 years, I am now seeing my environmental anxiety reflected by the news and those around me.
Many people have confided in me about their concerns for our world. Some admit there is a problem and they are doing what they can to make a difference. Then there are those who still feel like climate change won’t affect them in their lifetimes, so, they are more concerned about prosperity and economics. I’ve even heard from others who believe what is happening to our climate is part of the “natural order” and anyone truly worried is being silly or alarmist.
I gotta admit – it still feels like a lot of people are just not as concerned as I am.
The science is clearer than it ever has been and there’s just not that much time left. According to Pulitzer Prize winning Inside Climate News, the 12-year window reported recently may be misleading. We may have even less time to slow global warming.
My children have grown like sunflowers in the garden of my heart. They are my number one priority and at the forefront of my mind when I take action to slow climate change.
My two children are now 15 and 11. They live in a country struggling with how to transform itself into a healthy garden that nurtures its people, provides good employment, and tends the land with care. If I look for it, I do see people making news about wanting to TURN THIS PLACE AROUND. I’m heartened and more deeply hopeful than I was back in varsity debate class!
Many of us already know what to do. We need to transform. We need to plant trees to sequester the carbon we have already released, reduce our carbon imprint, and learn how to grow and prepare healthy food. We need to forgive those who have trampled the garden, work together with our neighbors, and educate our children to do their best.
Nobody said it was going to be easy, but it’s time to heal our world with positive actions.
Terra Pittenger is a native and xeric landscape designer with a background in permaculture. She is an avid reader of many random things, daily journaler, processor, hiker, meditator, and yoga hack.